By Web Master, 5-04-12
The governor of Montana has made quite a bit of news the last few weeks – from his comments on polygamy to his proposed pension fix to scenes of him passing out beef jerky in Times Square – once again raising the question of what Brian Schweitzer’s intentions are after he leaves office.
For his part, Schweitzer has said he has no plans to run for public office anytime soon. He will work in the private sector, or – as he told late night talk show host David Letterman – will “fish in the morning, drink whiskey in the afternoon. If somebody calls me with a problem, I’m going to give them a phone number of somebody who cares.”
But Schweitzer, who appeared on Letterman as part of an East Coast swing to promote Montana tourism and offer his opinions on a variety of political issues on cable news networks, looks nothing like a politician who’s ready to slowly fade into the background. He recently ventured into territory few would dare (for good reason) by suggesting to The Daily Beast that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is reluctant to discuss his Mexican heritage, which could be attractive to Latinos, because his family “came from a polygamy commune” in that country.
Romney’s father, the former governor of Michigan, was born in the Mormon colonies in northern Mexico. But, as several news organizations have pointed out, he was not a polygamist, a practice the church has repudiated since 1890.
Schweitzer’s comments were immediately criticized. Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, said the governor is “willing to say anything to get (Obama) reelected. Even things that aren’t true.” And a campaign spokesperson for President Barack Obama said, “Attacking a candidate’s religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don’t think others should either.”
Even under pressure from his own party to change course, Schweitzer instead defended his position. “People are taking this far away from where I was discussing,” the governor told Anderson Cooper on CNN.
The issue overshadowed the beginning of the governor’s trip to New York to tout direct flights from Newark, N.J to Bozeman. But Schweitzer slogged on, passing out Montana-made jerky and huckleberry jam in Times Square and inviting strangers he encountered to visit Montana. He was in his element and even posed for photos with the “Naked Cowboy,” some guy who plays guitar in his underwear and gets enough tips to survive. The governor is an effective promoter, of himself and the state. Along with the scenery and fishing opportunities, Schweitzer endlessly talks about the state budget surplus and energy opportunities.
Now, in response to a projected shortfall in the state’s government worker pension system – more than $3 billion over the next 30 years – the governor wants to require public employees to increase contributions and rely on natural resource development money to make up the difference. The chances of the proposal surviving the state Legislature next year, when Schweitzer is out of office, seem slim. But that didn’t stop him from pitching the plan to editorial boards across the state. He’s the consummate salesman.
When Schweitzer appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk tourism and pass out stuffed mountain goats, Mark Halperin asked him why President Obama is unpopular in Montana.
“You’re supporting President Obama yourself…” Halperin began.
But Cokie Roberts, who was also on the panel, chimed in: “Unless he’s running himself. He sounds like it.”
It’s an observation many share – that the governor is running for something. His profile continues to rise as his days left in office tick away. But, as the response to his comments on Romney reflect, there’s also a wrong way to gain notoriety.
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